Monday, January 15, 2018

The Quarter of Russians who Believe Their Country is Surrounded by Enemies Need Psychological Help, Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 15 – A Levada Center poll which found that 66 percent of Russians believe their country has enemies and 23 percent say that it is surrounded by enemies on all sides has disturbed psychologists who say that such attitudes have a negative impact on many areas of life and that those who believe there are enemies everywhere need psychological help.

            Petr Bychkov, a psychologist at St. Petersburg State University, says that the reason Russians think that way is not to be found in any special national “mentality” but rather in “the information which Russians receive” from the time they are in school until their deaths (

                “From childhood on, Russian citizens are told that Russia is a country which always defeats everyone in an honest battle, never conducts wars of conquest, and sets exclusively positive tasks for its intelligence arm. Also in childhood Russians are told that with regard to their country others always play dishonestly and that the English, Germans, French and other peoples always seek to conquer Russian territory,” the psychologist says. 

            There is, of course, some support for some of these propositions and that makes it easier to sell them to the population, Bychkov continues. And the view that the surrounding world is inherently hostile to Russia and Russians becomes “an alienable part of the worldview of the average Russian citizen.”

              “The consequences of this view of reality in fact are much more serious than a first glance might suggest.” They negatively effect “the psychological health of the nation,” he says. And “the 23 percent who suppose their country is entirely surrounded by enemies” are “absolutely unhealthy” as far as their mental state is concerned.

                This affects their views and behaviors in a wide variety of contexts, Bychkov continues.  “People who constantly live with a sense of being surrounded by enemies cannot feel good by definition.” They thus sink into conspiracy thinking and simultaneously assume that they are the last defenders of the only good country on earth.

            That affects not only their ability to live in the world but “to create a healthy family or raise children normally,” the psychologist says.  Their productivity suffers and they don’t take the steps needed to overcome technological backwardness. Moreover, “without trust in life and the people around them” they can’t establish new projects or build successful businesses.”

            Bychkov says that because these consequences are so negative, “the 23 percent of the residents of Russia” who believe there are enemies all around “need therapeutic psychological help.” Getting such help, he argues, is “in no way horrible or shameful.” It is for the good of the individual and the good of the state too.

            In fact, he suggests, rather more than the 23 percent need such assistance. “About 40 percent” of the Russian population suffers from one or another psychological problem and needs the help of doctors.  But few seek such help, and few are urged to seek it by others. And the situation is made worse by the role of “charlatans” who claim to provide help but don’t.

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